🎧 Learn English with a short story. 🗣 Listen & repeat after me if you’d like to practise your pronunciation. 💬 Learn some vocabulary in the second half of the video. 📄 I found this story in answer to a post on Quora.com asking about true scary stories. I thought I could use it to help you learn English. Can you understand the story, and predict the twist at the end?
About 7 years ago I got an invitation to attend a dinner party at my cousin’s house. I have a pretty large family and I had never actually seen this particular cousin before. I had only ever spoken to him on the phone. I was surprised that his family unexpectedly invited me over, but I was curious to finally meet them.
The invitation had an address that I didn’t know and the GPS was unfamiliar with it too. It was in one of those areas where Google Maps doesn’t work properly because of poor phone reception,
so I had to use an old fashioned paper map. I marked the location on the map, tried to get a sense of where I was headed, and set off in my car.
As I was driving I started to notice how far I’d travelled into the countryside, away from civilization. I saw trees, farms and fields passing by. Just trees, farms, and fields, and more trees, more farms and more fields.
“Where the hell am I going?” I thought to myself. I’d never ventured out so far in that direction before.
I drove for quite a long time, trying to locate the address I had marked on the map.
The thing is, in this area, a lot of the roads don’t have names, or the names aren’t clearly marked by road signs. I just had to try to match the layout of the streets, to the layout I could see on the map.
I finally found a place at a location that looked like the one I had noted on my map. I was pretty sure this was the right spot, so I parked and got out of the car.
Approaching the house I noticed how dull and dreary it looked. It was completely covered in leaves, branches and overgrown trees.
“This can’t be it.” I said to myself.
But as soon as I walked onto the rocky driveway my aunt and uncle came out to greet me. They seemed excited and welcoming.
“Hello! Hello! Come in! Come in!” they said, beckoning me inside.
Walking into the house, I asked where my cousin was. Answering immediately one of them said, “Oh, he just went to run a few errands. He should be back later.”
I waited in their kitchen and we spent a couple of hours talking about my mother and my family. My aunt made a delicious homemade pot roast that I finished off in minutes.
After dinner we played an enduring game of Uno. It was surprisingly fun and competitive. My aunt in particular seemed delighted to be playing.
When we finished the game of Uno it was almost dark and there was still no sign of my cousin. My aunt and uncle assured me that he’d be back any time soon. Despite what they said, I decided that I had to leave.
It was almost dark outside and I knew it would be a nightmare to find my way out of this dreadful place after sunset, with no streetlights or road signs. As my GPS just wasn’t working, I asked my aunt and uncle the most efficient way to get to the highway.
They gave me a puzzled look.
“But, we thought you were staying the night?” they said.
I told them I couldn’t because I had work the next day and couldn’t afford to miss another day. “It’s much better if you leave tomorrow morning. Trust us. You’ll get lost” they said.
I shrugged it off and told them not to worry,
“Don’t worry. I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction. I could find my way out of the Sahara desert.” I told them.
Looking aggravated, they strongly advised me to stay the night for my own sake. Their body language was weird too as they became more serious and insistent. My uncle stood shaking his head, and my aunt began to move about the place, picking up a set of keys to unlock what I assume was a spare bedroom.
At this point I was getting annoyed and irritable. I sighed, “Fine I’ll stay the night then, but I have to get up very early for work.” I said. Both of them seemed strangely ecstatic that I was staying the night.
As soon as they went out of the room to get bed sheets and pillows,
I ran out of the door, got in my car and hastily pulled away. I know it was rude, but I suddenly felt the urge to get out of there, quickly.
It seemed to take me ages, but I finally found my way back to the main highway and drove back through the night, wondering why my cousin had never turned up.
I got home several hours later than I expected. It was after midnight and I didn’t want to wake my parents up. Climbing over my fence and entering the back door, I noticed that the kitchen lights were on.
As soon as I took my first step through the door, I saw my mom sitting there looking impatient.
Amber and Paul join me in my pod room again for a rambling discussion about everything! Includes a language point about adjective + preposition collocations. Notice the phrases and try to find examples of them in context. Video version available.
Check out the premium series which accompanies this episode (P39 parts 1-3) 👇
Sign up to LEP Premium to get the 3-part series of episodes (audio, video, PDFs) about the language point in this episode.
P39 Part 1 – All about the grammar of prepositions and how they fit into sentences, including plenty of vocabulary and a quick pronunciation exercise at the end
P39 Part 2 – Let’s go through my list of adjective + preposition phrases from the conversation with Amber & Paul. I’ll test your memory and help you notice the target language, while clarifying some of the adjectives. Also includes discussion questions for free practise.
P39 Part 3 – Pronunciation, pronunciation, pronunciation, pronunciation, pronunciation. The 5 Ps. There’s a focus on weak forms of prepositions, -ed endings of adjectives and 40 sentences to repeat after me.
This is a free sample of LEP Premium, available for everyone. In this episode I’ll tell you about my technique for learning English with stories and transcripts, with full details about how to improve your English with my stories. Then I’ll tell you a story about a time I had an encounter with a bear, and then I’ll give you some language practice exercises for your grammar and vocabulary, and some pronunciation drills to let you repeat after me. Full PDF transcript available + video version available too.
🏆 LEP Premium is a series of bonus episodes from Luke’s English Podcast in which I teach you vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. LEP Premium is now available on Acast+ Episodes are usually in audio format (with some bonus videos), and you can listen to them in any normal podcast app.
Talking to Christian again about some of the themes and controversial opinions he talks about in his YouTube videos, plus some bits about men wearing thongs on the beach, an obsession with rabbits and if Christian was the Donald Trump of English teaching. Video version available.
How are you today? You are now listening to episode 732, and in this one I am talking again to Christian Saunders from Canguro English.
This is the second time I’m talking to him on the podcast. I previously interviewed Christian in episode 686 last year and got to know him a bit, but I wanted to talk to him again after having seen some of his most recent videos on YouTube about language and language learning.
In his videos Christian often challenges certain assumptions and myths about language learning, and so I thought it might be interesting to talk to him about those things, so I came up with some questions about language, learning language and teaching English on the internet.
There is a video version of this conversation on my YouTube channel too, so don’t forget to check it out and of course to like and subscribe while you’re there.
There’s no more for me to add here in the introduction. I hope you enjoy this conversation and get some good things from it. Once again, Christian’s YouTube channel is called Canguro English and his website is canguroenglish.com
Let’s get started.
So that was Christian from Canguro English. Thanks again to Christian.
And here we are, at the end of yet another episode. I wonder what you thought of the points which came up in that conversation? Feel free to let us know in the comment section or perhaps under the YouTUbe version of this. Where do you stand on things like comprehensible input, workbooks and clickbait titles? Let us know.
For me, this is one of the last episodes I’m recording before officially starting my summer holiday. As usual I have loads of stuff to record and publish before I go away, and I might end up recording some of it while I am back in the UK. But here’s a little overview of what’s in the pipeline right now.
A Summer Ramble
War of the Worlds
So I have my work cut out.
In terms of holiday – we’re going back to the UK to stay at my parents’ place and we will have to deal with the whole quarantine thing, and the day 2 and day 8 testing process and all that. It’s quite annoying. But after we quarantine we will be going to a posh camp site for some “glamping” and generally spending a couple of weeks in the UK.
Meanwhile our new flat in Paris is being demolished (on the inside) and remade to our specifications. Let’s hope that all goes according to plan.
I’ll talk more about this stuff in that rambling episode which is coming up.
A conversation about travelling and learning languages with Ethan from RealLife English. Ethan is very well-travelled, having lived in at least 6 different countries. He’s also learned a few different languages to a good level as an adult. Let’s talk about his advice for adapting to new cultures and learning languages in adulthood. Vocabulary notes and language test available below.
Arrive with an open mind and be ready to try anything
Don’t just hang out with people from your country
You have to make an effort to integrate into the country
Things might be weird, but you’ll end up having some really memorable experiences
Push yourself to live like a local, even if at first you feel like the lifestyle isn’t as good as it is in your country
Get over yourself! Get out of your comfort zone
Don’t go just to learn English, go somewhere for the whole experience – and if you do that you’ll probably learn English more effectively as a result
Ethan’s advice for learning English on your own
Watch a popular TV show with subtitles – it’s important to choose a show that you like.
Listen to music and taking the time to look up the lyrics.
He just talked to people, even though he was really awkward and shy because he made lots of mistakes.
Motivation is key – he fell in love with Catalan and this gave him the motivation to push through the difficult moments, the awkwardness etc. So build and nurture your motivation to learn a language. Realise how good it is for you to come out of your shell and remember that you can get over your barriers if you really want to.
Find the right people to talk to, find people who are understanding and sympathetic to your situation (someone who’s learning a language too).
Do a language exchange because the other person will be much more likely to tolerate your errors, and will be willing to help you out because you’re going to do the same for them. (you can use italki to find language partners in many countries – http://www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk )
Be voraciously curious – cultivate the desire to do more. If you’re listening to music, check the lyrics and look them up. While watching TV use a notepad or an app like Evernote on your phone to note down vocab and then look it up later.
Practice by speaking to other non-native speakers of the language you’re learning. Other learners of the language are likely to be more sympathetic, they’ll probably have more in common with you, they might have some good advice, you’re going through a similar experience. Having peers with whom you can share your experience is really important.
Some language from the first part of the conversation (Quiz below)
Listen to this episode to get some definitions and descriptions of this language.
Refurbished buildings (made to look new again)
You can see some random smokestacks and things sticking up (tall chimneys)
Three blocksfrom the beach. (distance between his place and the beach)
I tend to go running there (I usually go running there. Not – I am used to going running there)
The weather hasn’t really been beach-appropriate (appropriate for a beach!)
We’re just rolling into fall here (entering) (fall = autumn)
I enjoy running by the beach, especially because the whole area around the beach is very iconic from when they had the Olympics here (impressive because it’s a famous symbol of something)
A modernist humongous whale structure (massive)
Every time I look at it I’m just astounded, it’s beautiful. (amazed)
Language for describing Ethan’s background (background – narrative tenses, past simple, past continuous, maybe some past perfect)
I moved back here (already) two months ago.
I was living here two times before, once for a year and a half and once for 3 months. (normally I’d use ‘I lived’ but perhaps he was thinking of it as a temporary thing in both cases)
Ways he talks about his current situation – present perfect to describe past events with a connection to now.
I’ve come back to stay, probably indefinitely, hopefully for a couple of years. (this is the only example actually)
Describing your background and your current situation
Describing your background
You need to use narrative tenses to describe your background story, and you need to learn how to do this in English and to be able to repeat it with some confidence. It might be worth thinking of how you can make your background story quite interesting or entertaining, or at least say how you felt about it. It just helps in social situations.
Remember: Past simple – the main events of the story – the main sequence Past continuous – the situation at the time, or longer events which are interrupted by shorter actions Past perfect – background events to the main events of the story
E.g. I went to university in Liverpool and studied Media & Cultural Studies. It was a really interesting degree, but it wasn’t very useful. I stayed in Liverpool for a while and played music in a band but we didn’t make it and I left and moved back in with my parents which was a bit of a nightmare. I didn’t really know what to do with myself for a while, but I decided I wanted to travel and go somewhere quite different, and I‘d always been curious about teaching, so I trained to be an English teacher and I got my first job in Japan. I stayed there for a couple of years, had a great time but decided that I wanted to come back because of family reasons. I taught English in London for 8 years, did my DELTA, got a job in a good school in London and then I met a French girl and I moved to France so we could be together. I’m very romantic. (actually that was almost exclusively past simple, wasn’t it?)Describing your current situation
Then you also need to talk about your current situation. We do this with present simple (permanent situations) and present continuous (temporary situations) and present perfect to talk about past actions with a connection to now.
E.g. I live in Paris these days. I’ve been here for about 5 years. I’ve worked for a few different schools, teaching English. These days I teach at The British Council. I’ve been there for about 3 years now. I’m also developing some online courses which I hope to release on my website before too long!
I’m from Colorado in the USA. Luke: Oh cool. (I said cool – because you should say cool when someone tells you where they’re from, or at least you should show some interest or curiosity, and be positive about it.)
It’s below Canada and above Mexico, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (my non-specific description of where Colorado is – basically, it’s somewhere in the USA, haha etc)
It’s (to the) north east of Arizona, (to the) east of Utah, above New Mexico.
What’s the difference between ‘east of London’, ‘to the east of London’ and ‘in the east of London‘?
The four corners – it’s just a couple of hours away from the town I grew up in. (how would you put that in your language? “It takes two hours to get there”, “It’s a couple of hours from here”
It’s a tourist trap now. You go and put your hand in the middle and you’re in four states at once. (a place that attracts tourists and is probably best avoided)
I was born in my house. Durango, Colorado. That’s the town I lived in.
When I was 17 I moved to Germany for 6 months.
It’s interesting to see that, when you’ve lived in a place for 20 years, how it evolves. (how it changes gradually over time)
Colorado is wonderful, it’s spectacular. (magnificent, amazing, breathtaking)
We’re so active, we’re always outdoors. There are spectacular hikes you can do.
There are 4,000 or 5,000 metre peaks. (summits, mountain tops)
It’s very different to Europe because you get that kind of old-west feeling. (from the period of western expansion) (wild west – cowboys and lawlessness)
My only criticism is that I lived there for 20 years, which is more than enough. (nice way to start a sentence with something negative in it)…. (more than enough = too much)
I’ve never seen a grizzly, and they are dangerous. (grizzly bear)
Mountain Lions – if you were by yourself and you encountered one, it might not be a great end for you. You might get eaten alive by a huge cat. (You don’t meet a wild animal, you encounter one.)
We have deer and elk and in the north we also have moose, and a lot of, we’d say, critters, like small animals. (deer = animals that look like they have trees growing out of their heads – you know what I mean. Like Santa Claus’ reindeer. Elk = big deer. Moose = really big elk. Critters – little animals like rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, raccoons, skunks)
In the US you drive from city to city and you see endlessexpanses of mountains and plains. (wide open spaces)
That’s a fun question so I’d have to think. (a nice way to buy time for yourself when someone asks you a question, like saying “that’s a good question, let me think”)
When I was in high school I did a 6 month exchange in Germany and during that time I also got to live in Poland for 2 weeks. (difference between for and during?)
I lived in Spain in Majorca for a year during college, which is when I fell in love with this place.
Some time expressions to help you tell a story:
After that, after school, I moved to Brazil.
I joined RealLife English because they had started a few months before I moved there.
That’s when I moved to Barcelona. Then I moved to Chile for 6 months. Now finally I‘ve moved back here.
After that you can imagine I’m a bit tired of jumping around so much and living out of a back pack. Now I’m here to stay for a while.
Rambling (in my sweltering hot flat) about the benefits of playing football, giving encouragement to a shy new listener, some prepositions with transport, comparing formal and informal styles and commenting on the risks of using humour in emails.
Effects of exercise on the body and mind (less stress, less anxiety, less frustration – clear head, positive feeling, lighter feeling etc)
Are there any LEPsters in Germany who are up for a meetup?
There are rumours of a LEPsters meeting somewhere there. If you’re in Germany – let us know!
Messages and Comments from Listeners
Encouraging Laurentiu Adam Hi Luke I just have done one of the best or the worst things in my life – only time will tell. I have just visited one of my colleagues in Romania, during a business trip. His name is Laurentiu. I have never seen such a shy person who completely has no trust in his English skills – except myself years ago. One could ignore this if English was not a must in our international company. But without English he will lose the chance for communication among colleagues, professional development, promotion etc. What is funnier is that probably 30% of the words in our language are almost the same (based on Latin origin). I gave him homework for the next 30 days. I have copied for him about 50 of your podcasts. I hope he will hear at least one per day traveling to the plant and back home. He spends 2 hours daily on the bus. I think everybody deserves a chance, like I got several times. I was thinking that you could give some courage to Laurentiu. If it isn’t me, he might believe you. Thank you Luke Regards Adam p.s. I still measure time in Lukes ;-). Today about 4.5 Lukes to get home.
Luke’s Comments to Laurentiu
Laurentiu – if you’re listening. Hello! I know how you feel, because of my experiences with French.
How can you persuade someone to change their mind? How can we change your mind Laurentiu?
I hate it when people go on at me and put pressure on me.
I’m sure Laurentiu knows the reasons why he should learn English.
I think, what do I need to hear to get me to do more French?
Here are some ideas:
It’s loads of fun. The more you do it the better it is.
You can do it in your own way! It’s totally up to you. Anything and everything you do with
English is good. It’s all good man! Don’t worry about the best way to start, just start even if it’s not perfect. Listen, read, speak. Make mistakes. It’s fun. You WILL make progress.
Just do a little bit per day. Just 10 minutes of reading or listening. Try 10 mins of a podcast per day. If you don’t like it, just stop after 10 minutes. If it’s not too bad, keep going for a bit.
Just try to understand what’s being said and relax.
That’s it – no pressure, just take it step by step and start with a little bit.
I am just finishing my business trip to Romania (no vacation just a job in many plants in different places in Europe). Last week I was trying to convert Laurentiu to English – let’s wait and see how it works.
I have a feeling that I have successful infected my other Romanian colleague – Cristian with LEPoholism.
I hope you are not angry if I try to cure myself with the In Our Time podcast?
Please if you could encourage Laurentiu and he could hear this, it would be great (see my previous podcast comment).
Can you imagine being so afraid to say more than 3 words and then you jump to your comfort zone – to your language. He is like this ;-(. I know the following story. 17 years ago a young well educated guy went to an interview to get a good job in a big American food company. He got, like other candidates a case study – a real problem and he gave quite an interesting solution to it. Finally he qualified for the next round. Everything went well until the check of the English language. The guy wisely said: I have learned German in one year, so for sure I will learn English, but at the moment I cannot say anything longer than “my name is …” . The manager seemed to understand, so he tried to encourage the guy. The discussion was like this: “please say anything” and the answer was like this – “no, no, not now, but I will learn for sure.” Eventually the guy was so convincing that the manager could not give the job to him. I hope Luke you will not ask who the guy, was. Thank you in advance. Regards Adam
More Things to say to Laurentiu
Don’t be shy, give it a try.
The worst thing you can do is to say nothing and do nothing.
If you’re worried about making mistakes – the biggest mistake is to do nothing.
Don’t do it later. Do it now. Right now! Even if you’re on your own, speak some English to yourself. Don’t put it off until later. Later doesn’t exist in language learning, there is only now. Speak English now, you must.
Do or do not, there is no try.
Stretch out with your feelings. Use the force.
Feel the English! Breathe, relax. Let the English flow through you.
Worried about looking stupid? Don’t worry too much. Sorry, but nobody really cares that much. Nobody is judging you as much as you are judging yourself. So give yourself a break.
Every day millions of people are experiencing exactly the same feeling as you, in exactly the same situation. Do you think you’re different?
Anyone can learn English, the only thing stopping you, is you.
You feel like an idiot when you speak another language and you don’t want to look like an idiot who can’t express yourself and who can’t make the right sounds, but nobody will think that you’re an idiot. They’ll actually be impressed that you’re making an effort. They’ll find it charming and nice. And if someone judges you, it means they’re a loser who’s not worth worrying about.
When you speak English it feels like you’re not in control. But not being in control is the most fun thing ever. People love not being in control. Drinking, going crazy to music, going on a rollercoaster at Disneyland or something. You’re not in control then and it’s fun. Enjoy the feeling of danger and excitement in taking a risk with English. (and anyway, it’s not that risky, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? YOu’re going to break your tongue? Injure your chin?)
Take it one step at a time. You don’t have to be brilliant at the start. Be crap at the start, it’s fine! Anyway, I’m sure you’re not that crap.
Just improvise. Make it up as you go along. Nobody has a clue what they’re doing anyway.
You’ll be fine.
Everyone has to be a beginner when you begin, that’s why it’s called being a beginner. But when you don’t even begin, you’re nothing – just a monkey spinning through space – there is no name for you if you do nothing. You’re a zero. So open your mouth and say something and you’ll automatically be upgraded from ‘nothing’ to ‘beginner’. Immediate level up!
My French is terrible and I often feel awful about it – I know how you feel! But I promise you, when I do open my mouth and say a few things I feel much better than before I started speaking. And when I don’t say anything because I feel shy, I regret it. The only cure for this situation is to just speak the language.
Jilmani’s 15 Day Challenge
If you’re part of the challenge, I hope you’re managing to keep up with it and that you’re discovering or rediscovering some episodes from the archives.
On “30. The Mystery Continues” (15 Day Challenge) Naomi – Episode 30 The Mystery Continues (Click here to listen) Thank you Jilmani for day 2. I love this story. It’s amazing and funny both the story and Luke’s narration! In the term of grammar I often get confused between ‘jumped in a cab’ ‘jumped on a bus’ ‘on the train’ etc. Does it depend on the vehicles? How do I know which preposition to use?
Carrick Cameron once told me this: if you can stand up it’s ‘on’, if you can’t stand up it’s ‘in’.
Test it out on different modes of transport. All of them.
Car, taxi, horse, bike, motorbike, canoe, helicopter, plane, spitfire, tank, camel, skateboard, train, boat, dinghy, hovercraft, UFO. [Listen for the answers]
Formal vs Informal Salwa El Zallawi Brilliant! I like the idea of dedicating the whole episode to one specific delexical verb. I love learning phrasal verbs and expressions. Learning these will help us end the intermediate plateau. Looking forward to more episode on other verbs, ( go , put, keep….). But we shouldn’t use them in formal speech and formal writing, should we ? I don’t know. I know that I shouldn’t use phrasal verbs in formal e-mails. But again, articles in newspapers today are taking more and more of an informal tone. The line between formal and informal English is not clear for me, and is a bit confusing. Thank you, Luke, for this wonderful episode.
Salwa – you’re right.
Don’t use them in really formal writing like impersonal emails & letters, academic writing.
But they do appear in newspaper articles that use a neutral tone and sometimes in financial reports that use quite a lot of idiomatic language, including phrasal verbs – like “shot up” and “picked up” etc.
Formality in writing. It depends on the situation. It’s also true of speaking.
Let’s look at writing first.
People seem to think phrasal verbs might be these very informal and therefore disrespectful language or something. Not so. Phrasal verbs are very common in neutral speech and writing, including in professional contexts, in newspaper articles including stories about financial reports and so on. You see them all the time in those contexts.
To be honest the vast majority of the English you’ll use will be neutral in tone.
There are 3 forms, I would say. 1. Formal 2. Neutral 3. Informal
Formal language – primarily an impersonal form. E.g. university essays and assignments, professional correspondence in which you have to use lots of distance because of the respect that you’re attempting to show in a business relationship. You use it when you’re communicating on behalf of the company with people you don’t know and you want to add that impersonal distance to show respect, high levels of politeness and so on. It can also make you sound incredibly old fashioned and distant, like a bad guy from a science fiction movie, or Dracula.
Informal language – much more personal. This is like the way you would speak to a friend or a family member. It can sound friendly, but very out of place and rudely familiar in the wrong situation. Imagine writing to the Queen. “Hi Liz, what’s up? How are you handling this heatwave? It’s a nightmare isn’t it! I’m totally boiling here in my flat – no aircon because my landlord’s an idiot. WTF right? Bet you’re keeping cool tho cos you’ve got so many fans! LOL!” On one hand it’s really friendly and relaxed, but on the other hand it shows no respect if you aren’t personal friends with that person because it’s too close – there isn’t enough distance.
Neutral language – somewhere in the middle. In fact, you can get formal/neutral and informal/neutral. It’s a bit personal and friendly sounding, but not to the extent that you seem overly familiar. The vast majority of language that we use every day is neutral. It can be a bit more formal, e.g. using no contractions, probably using the bigger latin words, certain polite constructions.
Are these formal, neutral or informal situations? Let’s play around a bit. (Listen for the answers)
Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are visiting your office and you’re writing a welcoming letter to be presented to them on arrival.
A letter from the RMC about the annual expenditure and building costs (which I have to pay for).
You are writing to a manufacturing company (maybe a weapons manufacturer) requesting information about a new product range.
You are a marketing manager writing an internal email to a member of the accounts department to ask for some sales data. You know this person because you sometimes have meetings with them and you have had lunch together a few times.
You’re writing to your best friend because you want to remind them to water the plants in your flat when you go away.
You’re writing to your wife to suggest that you have pizza for dinner this evening.
With phrasal verbs, I’d say – it’s a fairly reliable rule that the more formal you get, the less you use them.
There’s usually a formal equivalent – probably a latin origin word.
Phrasal verb – more formal equivalent
Call off – cancel
Put off – postpone
Carry out – execute
Get across – communicate
Hold up – delay
Pick up – collect
Get off – alight
Turn down – refuse
Phrasal verbs are less formal than their ‘latin’ equivalents, but you will find them in language including some financial reports, professional emails and so on.
If you’re being really formal, avoid them. If you’re being just neutral, you will probably want to use some.
If you’re being informal, you’ll use them a lot.
That’s the best I can say right now without writing a whole book on the subject. Keep your eyes peeled when you’re reading or hearing different types of English.
Cat in reply to Salwa
I have the same confusion here, Salwa. I have to write tons of emails each day, to people from different countries, using English, of course. The question I’m always asking myself is — how formal and how informal can I get without confusing the other side… Often I have to check myself before I wreck myself; and at times failing badly, I fear…
The other day I wrote to a lady in UK with the name “Clare” — she wanted to double check on something — and I wrote to her “Hi Clare! I see, there is a need for some Clare-fication here. ;)” Now I’m a bit worried, maybe I shouldn’t have written such things…. What do you think?
Then, on the same day, I was desperately trying to invite some students to one event we were organising for the said Clare. And I wrote to our students:
“Come and build a bridge
to the University of Cambridge!”
(she was from Cambridge). I don’t know how it sounds for native speakers… But sometimes it’s fun to have a bit of fun at work. :))
Using Humour in Emails
It’s fun – but beware of making jokes in emails it almost never works.
If you’re lucky, and Clare is 100% lovely, she will find it charming.
But what are the chances she is 100% lovely?
There’s a big risk that she will think it’s pretty cheesy.
Humour is very hard to pull off unless you’re being self-deprecating (and I don’t recommend that too much either, especially in emails).
Beware of making jokes with people’s names. They might just get a bit triggered by that and won’t see the funny side.
I feel a bit awkward here because I have said that humour is everywhere in British culture, but remember that we go for self-deprecating humour a lot – understatement, putting ourselves down a little bit. If you do wacky puns on someone’s name, they might just think you’re the annoying office joker.
But maybe not! Brits love a pun, and Catherine you are very charming and I don’t know the relationship you have with Clare, so maybe she will like it and it will help you two bond more.
Thing is, how is she now supposed to respond? It’s hard for her to adopt the same tone. That’s why it’s potentially inappropriate.
Clare might think you’re a bit nuts, to be honest!
But I think you’re wise enough to know what you’re doing Cat, right?
The Cambridge University joke is better, because it’s not a joke about someone’s name. But, does she work at Cambridge University? If not, she might be thinking, “well, what do I have to do with Cambridge University, just because I’m from Cambridge?”
I’m teachersplaining now, and possibly making you feel bad, I don’t know. The jokes are sweet and nice but the danger is that they will backfire on you.
But if it was me, I would avoid that kind of thing in emails. Mainly because there’s no chance for you to react quickly to rescue the situation if she doesn’t like it or understand it, and email lacks all the subtlety of body language, facial expressions and intonation that you need to help make a joke like that.
I speak from experience as someone who has put my foot in it by making silly jokes which impressed nobody, and as someone who has found silly jokes to be slightly inappropriate, annoying and awkward.
That’s it for now! Thanks for listening.
Join the mailing list and watch out for some website-only content coming in the future.
The plan in this episode is to go through some of the language that you heard during the last two episodes.
If you listened to episodes 464 and 465 you will have heard me telling you to watch out for certain language that I would be explaining later.
Well, it is now ‘later’ – later has arrived. This is later. So let’s check out some of that language, shall we?
Check the page for this episode to see the words, phrases and some example sentences written for you to look at with your eyes and then remember with your brains (your brain – you’ve only got one, right?)
So, how much stuff did you notice? How many phrasal verbs, collocations and instances of ‘get’?
I’ve been through the episodes and have picked out some of that language that I thought was worth highlighting, and there was loads of it, tons of it, considerable amounts, too much for one episode. So in this one I’m just going to focus on the uses of get, which is one of the most common verbs in the English language. Let’s consider all the uses of ‘get’ which came up in the last two episodes.
GET the word ‘get’ into your life
Open a dictionary and look up this little word. You’ll see pages and pages of entries. Different meanings, grammatical functions, uses, phrasal verbs, fixed expressions and so on.
*actually read out loads of uses of get…*
You can’t underestimate the importance and usefulness of this little word. Native English speakers use get an awful lot. It’s one of the features of native level English.
Now, actually I should point out that it’s not just this one word on its own. That’s slightly misleading. Instead you realise that you’re not learning ‘get’ over and over again, you’re learning all the many different phrases in which it occurs. So, don’t focus on what ‘get’ really means – on its own it doesn’t mean that much, that’s why it’s a delexical verb. The meaning is to be found in the whole phrase – so that means you need to pay particular attention to how the word collocates with prepositions like ‘in’ or ‘on’ and auxiliary verbs like ‘have’ and also how these phrases affect the grammar of the sentence (e.g. if they’re followed by a gerund or an infinitive).
Sounds difficult? That’s because it is. In fact, I think ‘get’ is an example of exactly how English can be extremely tricky for learners of English.
Some aspects of English are easier than other aspects.
Some of the ‘easier’ things about our language are – there are not so many verb forms (e.g. with ‘go’ – to go, go, goes, going, went, gone, been) or verb endings (-ed, s or es) , no gender – so no need to change the gender of the adjective or pronoun and so on. Obviously I would say English was easy because it’s easy for me and I know that, admittedly, there are some tricky bits like some adjective and adverb morphology (with comparatives and superlatives – er, ier, est, iest), our irregular verbs and spelling are an irregular nightmare, we have lots of vocabulary with many synonyms, indirect language is hard to deal with, modal verbs are hard to get to grips with and there’s massive diversity in the way the language is spoken with many different accents around the world and so on, but compared to something like French or German there is less grammar to deal with, like the number of verb forms for example is quite limited.
I guess this is why it’s fairly common for people to get to a certain level of functional English (intermediate level) quite quickly but then get stuck at the intermediate plateau. Many people get to that level where they can basically say what they want to say and hold down a basic conversation but then that’s it, they stay there or they get stuck there because they hit a wall when it comes to the more complex stuff – the really nitty-gritty of native level English usage – the stuff that allows you to communicate shades of grey, subtlety, nuance and humour.
This is where English becomes particularly tough stuff. It’s the sheer diversity of little phrases which are created by combining certain ‘delexical verbs’ with prepositions, pronouns, gerunds and infinitives.
‘Delexical verbs’ are verbs which don’t carry much meaning on their own. Often they are little verbs. E.g. get, have, keep, put, take, make, give. They combine with other words in phrases. It’s the phrase as a whole that carries the specific meaning.
We end up with sentences like: “I’ve just got to get in on some of that action.” or “I just can’t get used to being out of the loop.” or “I’ve got to get round to getting you back for that thing that you did to me.”
“I’ve just got to get in on some of that action.”
to have got to do something = to have to do it, to need to do it
to get in on something = to become involved in something, take part in something from which you will benefit.
Is the meaning obvious from the words? Not really. The only big word there is “action”. All the others are little ‘grammar words’. The whole thing is quite idiomatic.
Is it easy to spot all the words being used when someone says it? Not really
You might eventually understand it, but can you use and pronounce it quickly and confidently?
Jim: Do you want to get in on some of this action? *points to chips and salsa*
Pete: No thanks, I’m Good.
(from the Urban Dictionary – which isn’t always reliable by the way, there’s a lot of stupid, rude slang in there)
“I can’t get used to being out of the loop” = I’m in a really difficult position because I don’t know what’s going on and I haven’t known what’s going on for a while. This position is not getting easier for me.” e.g. you’ve got no internet connection and life just doesn’t seem normal.
“I’ve got to get round to getting you back for that thing that you did to me.”
to get round to doing something = to finally do something you should have done before
to get someone back for doing something = to get revenge on someone
This is where English gets really quite difficult. It’s a nightmare, I know.
A lot of these ‘bits of English’ with get are phrasal verbs, others are just fixed expressions. They are difficult, right? But what are you going to do? Ignore them? Pretend they don’t exist? Bad move. You’ll end up speaking an unnatural form of English. You’ll end up not really understanding what native speakers are talking about or getting at.
So, don’t underestimate the importance of little verbs like ‘get’ or ‘make’ or ‘put’. They’ve very common and this is the real English that is used all the time every day, but which is hard to learn because it’s probably quite different from your native language and because they’re not the ‘big heavy latin words’ that are more noticeable. These delexical words are like the ninjas of English. Yes, more ninjas on the podcast. I am obsessed with ninjas.
There are actually about 29 different uses or different phrases with ‘get’ in this episode. Maybe more.
That’s a lot, I know. Normally in lessons we don’t teach more than about 12 words at a time. There’s a good chance not every phrase will stick.
It can feel overwhelming. There are so many usages and phrases. It feels like you’ll never learn them all. But don’t worry about it all too much. It does take a while to pick up these difficult aspects of English but it’s not impossible. It helps if you stay positive.
Tips for dealing with all this tricky vocabulary
Here are some tips that I hope will help:
Remember – it feels like there’s an infinite number of these little phrases. There isn’t. It’s a finite number. You can learn them all if you try. It is achievable. You can do it. Yes, you can.
OK, so you might not learn them all, it’s quite difficult. But don’t worry, you don’t have to learn them all. Just learn some and the ones you do learn properly will stick with you forever as long as you keep noticing and using them. That’s better than just going “Oh to hell with it!” and learning nothing. Something is better than nothing, even if it is not everything. So, don’t worry if you don’t get all of these expressions. Just learn some now and get the others later.
You could check a phrasal verbs dictionary like the Cambridge Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs to see the frequency of expressions, which might help you see which expressions are more common than others.
When you’ve learned a phrase, or started learning some phrases. Listen out for them, watch out for them. You’ll find you start noticing them more and more. This will help you remember them a bit. The ones you notice a lot are the really useful ones worth remembering.
Watch out for tricky little details such as whether the expression is followed by an -ing form or an infinitive form (with or without to) or if there are sneaky little prepositions, auxiliaries or pronouns. Don’t just learn the big solo verbs or words, train yourself to be on the lookout for vocabulary in phrases, or chunks. E.g. “to get used to doing something” or “be used to doing something” – both of those expressions with ‘used to’ have 4 parts, not just ‘used to’.
Always study vocabulary with real examples, not just definitions. Beware of translating everything directly from or into your language, this might not work. English is a different language, remember.
Try to use expressions with your own examples. Own the language. Personalise it. Use examples that mean something to you. This will help it stick in your mind, especially if your examples are visual or spatial – e.g. involving you in a particular space.
Listen back to episodes 464 and 465 and focus on spotting the uses of ‘get’ either in phrasal verbs or other uses. You could play ‘vocab hunter’ if it makes you feel more excited.
These phrases can be difficult to notice because of connected speech – the way certain sounds are cut, or even added in order to say the phrase quickly. All the words in the phrase run into each other and it ends up sounding like one word or even just a noise. E.g. “things might get a bit technical” (try it with and without the /t/ sounds)
Check out my series called “A Phrasal Verb a Day”. It’s currently on hiatus, but there are about 130 phrasal verbs explained in individual episodes with their own examples. Each episode is just a few minutes long and there’s not much rambling. I just get straight to the point each time. It might help.
So, let’s carry on and look at the ways in which ‘get’ is used with some examples from episodes 464 and 465.
Uses of GET
Get on its own can mean a few things. See below for examples.
The list below is in order of frequency from episodes 464 and 465. The most frequent uses in those episodes are at the top of the list.
Get = receive (get a letter), obtain (get permission to do something), achieve (get a good result)
e.g. (to get an idea, to get the giggles, get the motivation to do something)
here’s a message I got not long ago
I do get quite a lot of messages like that
I get messages like this quite a lot
where I get the inspiration for episodes
getting the giggles
Zdenek got a teaching job off the back of his podcast
Get some inspiration to record something
get the right results
getting a sense of what works with learners of English
some things that I’m sure will be a hit seem to get a muted response
trying to get their approval
it’s great to get your feedback
you can’t get that lovely close sound with the laptop mic
Get = become (get + adjective)
e.g. get old, get hot, get dark, get famous, get bored
This might get a bit technical later on
which could get quite geeky
if you get too focused on controlling everything
I think she gets distracted at work
I have to get myself pumped up
That’s how a British person gets pumped up
Come on, let’s get pumped!
Let’s get pumped up!
things get a bit more fun in the second half of the episode
Ooh, suddenly this has got way more exciting, hasn’t it. Hasn’t it?
Get = the auxiliary verb in passive forms (sometimes)
e.g. to get paid, to get downloaded, to get noticed, get caught, get arrested, get involved in something
if you get too focused on controlling everything you might stifle the conversation
I think she gets distracted at work
Let’s get pumped up!
Get = understand
e.g. to get the message, get a joke, to get the idea
nobody gets the joke
you get the idea
Do you get what I’m trying to say?
I just don’t get it
have got = have (possessive)
I’ve got two Shure SM58s and a Shure SM7B
Send out a search team for Carlos. Sweep the area, we’ve got a missing LEPster. (actually he’s not missing, he got in touch)
Imagine you’re a presenter and you’ve got your own radio show
Watch out for:
*we don’t use it in the past (I had)
*auxiliary verbs in negatives and questions
(+) I have an idea / I have got an idea
(-) I don’t have an idea / I haven’t got an idea
(Q) Do you have any ideas? / Have you got any ideas?
Have got to = have to (obligation)
I’ve just got to get through this work
“I’ve got to concentrate!”
Watch out for:
*not in the past (I had to)
*negatives and questions
I have to do it / I have got to do it
I don’t have to do it / I haven’t got to do it
Do you have to do it? / Have you got to do it?
Get = reach/arrive at a place/stage
e.g. to get home, to get to work, to get to where you want to be
to get to where I need to be to start recording something about it
Get = manage to put something somewhere
e.g. to get it on the table, to get the ball in the hole
get it online, get those files online
Phrasal verbs and other expressions with get
To get through something = to finish something, to pass from the start to the finish
e.g. We need to get through the woods before the sun goes down.
Things got a little bit difficult in the middle of the marathon but I got through it.
try to get through the bits about how I make the podcast
To get your head around something = to understand it
I’ll explain the vocab later, which should help you to get your head around it all
To get round to doing something = to do something you have intended to do for a long time
I’m glad to have actually got round to doing it
I wonder if I’ll ever get round to making all those episodes
To get into something (literal) = to enter something (e.g. get into the car please sir) or change into a particular state (e.g. get into the right mood to do something)
I just try to get into the right frame of mind to record an episode
To get into something (idiomatic – ish) = become interested or involved in something
You might want to get into it too
To get back (to something) = to return to a place, or return to something you were doing before
e.g. “Get back! Get back! Get back to where you once belonged. Get back Jo Jo!”
Let’s get back to the topic of this episode
To get something across = to communicate something to someone, to make someone understand something
I have to come up with ideas and get them (my ideas) across to my audience
How to actually get the message across
To get on with someone = to have a good, friendly relationship with someone
Listen to people who know each other and get on well
To get rid of something = to throw something away, to discard it
Sometimes I have to get rid of what I recorded and start again
Other expressions and uses of ‘get’
To get going / to get started = to start
So let’s get going.
Let’s get started properly.
To get on with it = Start doing something that you should be doing.
e.g. Come on, stop wasting time! Get on with it!
Let’s get on with it.
To get down to business = to start talking about the subject which is to be discussed
Let’s get down to business.
To get something done = do it, finish it – ‘get’ is a causative verb here – either you do it or someone else does it
Control the podcast settings and get it published to iTunes
I need to get this finished by the end of the day
I need to get my teeth looked at
To get someone to do something = another causative verb – it means to make someone do something, to persuade someone to do something – someone else does it (in USA they might say “have it done”
getting people to download it
How I get people to know about what I’m doing, how to get people to listen.
To get someone doing something = to put someone in a state, to make someone do something over and over
Here are just a few questions to get you thinking.
What’s the difference between ‘get someone to do something’ and ‘get someone doing something’?
The first one means persuade someone to do it, and it might only be once. (e.g. I got him to give me the money)
The second one means that you make someone do something over and over again, or put them in a state, not just do one single thing. (e.g. “now you’ve got me worrying” or “I really want to get you running every day”)
To get used to doing something = to become accustomed to doing something, to become familiar with something
I want you to get used to noticing different bits of language
To get the hang of doing something = like ‘get used to -ing’ but more informal, to learn how to do something
I want you to get the hang of noticing language
To get the most out of something = to achieve the most from something that is possible, to take advantage of something
I want you to be able to get the most out of these episodes
to get the most out of the people you’re listening to
Also: to make the most of something
To get in touch (with someone) = to contact someone by phone, text, email etc
Get in touch
Also: keep in touch, stay in touch
To get it right/wrong = do something correctly or incorrectly
I’m sure I don’t get it right every time
I try to get it right
To get together = meet socially
Get people together
Get together with someone
If you get the right people together
Also – (n) a ‘get together’
Let’s have a get together at the weekend
to get something into your life
I’ve got to get you into my life
Get this word into your life
The Beatles – Got To Get you Into My Life (Lyrics) http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/gottogetyouintomylife.html
Hamid If English keeps taking on words from other languages, will it stop being English?
This is the story of English.
English is a vacuum cleaner of a language.
Something like 300-600 languages have influenced English with words. If you look at English today. Where are the germanic words? They’re only about 20%. The other 80% is from French, Spanish, latin and others.
There is no single dominating influence on English today.
How many Urdu words have gone into English? Maybe 100. But English has over 1,000,000 words. No new cluster of words coming in is going to come in all at once (tidal wave) they come in drip drip drip.
New words are assimilated to reflect a need – e.g. for new types of food.
This is no threat to English.
In fact it’s evidence of the power of English, that it absorbs so many other influences from other languages and cultures. It’s like the blob!
Jilmani What’s the future of English?
Unpredictable! Absolutely an unanswerable question. You should never try to predict the future of a language. It’s all about events which just happen, e.g. the Norman invasion, Trump or Brexit.
Will Brexit reduce the influence of English in EU?
Not much. But it will change its character because it won’t be used by so many native speakers, so there will be more developments “Euro English” (I think it has emerged a bit).
But English will continue to change and diversify.
Jairo – wants help managing the workload of studies.
Learning about language is a huge burden.
Learning about a language you have to learn about the history, society and events of the time to understand why people were using language in those particular ways.
What was it like to be an old norse speaker?
But most philologists don’t have a psycholinguistic background to their studies.
Philology can be a bit dry.
David prefers the socially aware approach to the history of language which doesn’t just ask “what happened and when” but “why?” – let’s explore the nature of the people who made it happen. This should ease the process.
Cat English syntax – can you explain it?
Come on you’re asking for a book here!
English has a simple morphology compared with German (or French).
How many possible word endings are there for a verb in English?
The difference between English and German is morphological but also syntactic.
English and German are quite close. They only diverged 2000 years ago.
Word order is a bit different.
Everyone understood David when he went to Germany and spoke German with the wrong word order.
There aren’t that many differences, although the few differences are noticeable.
Cat, why are you worried about local areas of syntactic difference between English and German. Why has this become an issue?
It usually comes down to identity. German English (used by people who have learned it really well) still is distinctively German English.
The point is, don’t be too concerned about micro differences in syntax between your language and English. As long as we understand you that’s the main thing, although obviously style is important so I imagine you want to write in the style of a native speaker (but which one though!) You might have to accept that it’s important to find your own voice in English, which might be influenced a bit by who you are (it is your own voice after all) – which is someone who lives in Germany. That’s not to say your English can be totally different and like German with English words – that would probably be unintelligible and a bit ridiculous. But micro differences aren’t such a big deal.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s just small stuff.
Wesley Do people who speak different languages think differently?
It’s difficult to translate words sometimes because there are some words which don’t directly translate because there isn’t an equivalent word. 10-15% of the words might be untranslateable. But in Chinese it’s a lot more.
But when you do psycholinguistic experiments we discover that people can see the different concepts, but having those specific words makes it easier to talk about those things. You can see the colours but you might not have the language for describing it.
Different languages might not have the same word for something but it doesn’t mean they think about them any differently.
E.g. in English we don’t have a word for a certain thing in Japanese – natsukashii for example. But we find other ways of describing it. Ah, it takes me back or “good old” or “it feels nostalgic” or “it’s good to be back”.
So it doesn’t seem to be the case that languages affect or reflect different perception of the world.
*But I reckon there might be something to it Wesley. E.g. sense of humour, patterns of understatement, all contribute towards expressing a sardonic outlook on life (UK) rather than a direct attitude in the mediterranean for example.
The fallacy is that it’s words that translate, but it’s not it’s sentences. A group of words together are what hold meaning. So even if there’s no single word equivalent, you put some words together and make a sentence and that’s how the language transcribes.
“Snow that you use to build an igloo with” – he can still express that thing with a sentence and you can see that kind of snow.
Learn the vocabulary of a new language and you’ll see the cultural things that it reflects. It shows that to learn the language properly you should learn about the culture too – the mindset, the reference points and so on. You can see all those things too, but having certain words and expressions makes it easier to talk about them.
The result is that in languages it’s easier to talk about commonly occurring cultural phenomena because the language has the tools to do it, but people are all still basically the same, we might just take a bit longer to talk about a concept that in your language is very normal.
Mayumi Why do Brits use indirect language?
It’s just a cultural difference. It’s the British temperament. The reason for that is hard to say. Maybe it’s because the UK is an island and the psychogeographic factors might affect that kind of language use.
Pragmatics – the study of why people are using specific bits of language.
Language norms reflect the cultural context – that’s the identity argument.
But why does the UK use this polite language? We don’t really know! You have to ask why British people want to be polite. (obviously it’s because we’re such nice people)
You just have to accept the cultural differences. Learn about them and accept them. “That’s who we are.” should be a good enough answer.
As ever, you must accept cultural differences. They’re not weird, they’re just different. It’s a good bit of advice for anyone coming into contact with another culture. You can speculate about why people behave the way they do, but ultimately you’ve just got to accept it and move on, like the way you often have to accept in English that “this is just what people say in this language” and that’s it.
Synchronic not diachronic method.
Wikipedia: Synchrony and diachrony are two different and complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A synchronic approach (from Greek συν- “together” and χρόνος “time”) considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic linguistics aims at describing a language at a specific point of time, usually the present. By contrast, a diachronic approach (from δια- “through” and χρόνος “time”) considers the development and evolution of a language through history. Historical linguistics is typically a diachronic study.
DC says we should use a synchronic approach to understanding these things – why is this particular person choosing to say it in this way, right now?
Some more modern dictionaries now contain essays about usage and pragmatics, which help us to identify how culture affects language. It’s worth reading the extra comments and information pages you find in many dictionaries.
Also, consider reading cultural guides as well as purely linguistic ones.
Antonio Will AI replace the need for language learning?
Babel fish (Hitchhiker’s Guide)
In 100 years it’ll probably be perfect.
(I’ve seen auto subs have improved recently).
Imagine a situation where the babelfish is operating perfectly. It would solve lots of problems, but identity hasn’t been addressed. I still want to “be French” and the AI might not include those differences. People will still hold onto their languages in order to express their identity. It won’t affect language diversity.
But it might mean that AI might make the need for a global language redundant. Maybe AI will replace English. Why bother learning an international language?
But there are various answers to that – tech might let you down so people might not choose to constantly rely on it – some conditions in which there is no electricity.
Will AI manage to be perfect like a human, with the ability to translate with a view to expressing the culture?
Human translators choose between different competing nuances. I could say it this way, or this other way. We make those decisions based on complex social and psychological factors. A computer might not have that cultural sensitivity, maybe only in the long term.
The number of people learning languages might be reduced, but it’s also ignoring another factor in learning another language – the want to become aware of the culture, history and literature of the other language. There’s a personal satisfaction in learning another language and enjoy the pleasant things about it. People learn languages because they want to not because they need to. It’s a pleasure.
There are many reasons to want to continue to learn, it’s not just about intelligibility.
For the forseeable future he can’t see that it would be economically viable to create that technological solution for language when the traditional methods are the best way to foster relationships.
Jack – I don’t know where you come from.
First of all, David doesn’t mind being addressed in the Ali G dialect.
“Me” instead of “I”.
“Me wants to know…”
“I is well impressed…”
Subject verb agreement. “I is…”
“It is a well big honour”
It’s quite a skill to be able to switch between registers. Sometimes we break the rules as a stylistic choice, like with the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s important to be able to switch between different styles and registers but you also have to know when it is appropriate to do it.
I’m not bothered by it in the comment section of my site, but you should be aware that some other people might find it weird or inappropriate, like for example if you write that in forums on other websites, in the comment section of Amber’s new podcast about Paris history, or in some business meeting. It’s going to seem really weird. So, you need to seriously think about the appropriacy of the things you’re doing and that means the style of English you’re using, or the decision to post dodgy pictures of cakes on my website. Should the listeners learn the rules of grammar, or should they just focus on meaning, and let the rules look after themselves?
Both but in a structured sort of way.
In communicative teaching the structured side was a bit lost.
Just listening and working things out by being dropped in at the deep end is a bit of a big step – it takes a while.
It’s also important to do some structure work, but also to expose the learners to things that illustrate the language point being used in a functional way.
So it’s not just about form, but also about function and trying to balance the two.
So, as we’ve said before – do both. Some structured language work, combined with exposure in which you are really focused on following the meaning of what’s being communicated. Then probably some more reflection on the way it was done. Moving between grammar and pure meaning all the time. Juggling.
Back to the conversation with friends recently.
People get upset by failing standards in English.
Again, David doesn’t mind – as long as the language is intelligible then it’s a sign of changing identities – a sigh of the times.
Are we better at communicating than we used to be?
It is possible to measure, but not possible to give a simple answer. It depends on the situation.
Book: “The Gift of the Gab” How eloquence works.
Eloquence standards do vary from generation to generation, circumstances, individual to individual. E.g. Obama and Trump – differences in eloquence. Is Trump incoherent? Is Obama a better communicator? Some people say Trump is incoherent and inarticulate. But it’s not necessarily true considering Trump’s ability to communicate with his core voters.
People cite various things as examples of falling eloquence standards, e.g. using “like” but often these aren’t really examples of falling standards, it’s just a question of style.
How do we use “like”?
As long as it doesn’t get in the way, it’s just a question of style.
Again, people see language changes and they equate it with decline. It’s not.
Usually, people are giving examples of things that are just a different type of eloquence (again, change not death).
Trump’s English has a style with its own values. He avoids the rhetorical style of Obama with balanced, complex sentences. Trump uses everyday conversational strategies. “Look, believe me folks..” Every day conversational strategies. He doesn’t use carefully crafted sentences, he changes direction even mid sentence. These are all features of informal American speech.
Semantically it can be extremely difficult to understand what he really means. But adopting that style allows him to appeal to certain people.
These days he might have become a bit more formal, but during the campaign he was noticeably less formal and more colloquial than Clinton and the other candidates. As a result he clearly stood out from the crowd, during a climate of dissatisfaction with the traditional political class. People were fed up with the type of boring politician speaking in that boring old way. They thought they were out of touch with ordinary people, and part of a crooked system. Trump got in by presenting himself as an alternative to this established political system and the way he used English was a big part of that.
Here we are back once again with an episode of this podcast for learners of English. This one should contain insights about the English language and the process of learning that language, straight from the horse’s mouth.
That’s an expression, “straight from the horse’s mouth” which means you get information directly from a reliable and trusted source. In this case that source (or horse) is Professor David Crystal, who of course isn’t a horse – that would be very bizarre. No, he’s of course, he’s not a horse, he’s a great expert on the English language, the author of many books, known by anyone studying linguistics, he’s described as the world’s leading voice on language. I was very happy to have that leading voice on my podcast and there’s certainly a lot of good information to take in – whether you’re learning English or simply interested in languages and what makes them tick.
In this episode the plan is to go through some of the ideas David talked about and see if I can point out some specific bits of relevance for learners of English.
Let’s unpick the wise words of Prof David Crystal and really clarify some truths, tips and general conclusions about language learning, and perhaps explain some of the vocabulary you heard as well.
Essentially, I am going to repeat the main points DC made here, but the aim is to clarify it all and make it a bit more digestible. I will constantly be attempting to answer the question – how is this useful for learners of English? So, you should be able to take away quite a lot from this episode, in combination with the other two.
Is grammar glamorous?
Glamour and grammar come from the same word – because grammar, language etc used to be considered like magic. But grammar seems to have lost its magic these days, in the way people think about it. These days its considered to be boring, prescriptive and all about rules you learned at school.
It’s not glamorous if you study it like they used to in school. Just parsing sentences and working out what the part of speech is.
It only works if you ask why people are using those forms.
Semantic (focusing on meaning) vs pragmatic (why people say the things they say).
Understanding the motivations of the people who use grammar (the pragmatic side) is the interesting part and that’s when grammar really comes alive and becomes glamorous in the old sense of the word.
For learners of English this means exploring not just the form of the language you’re studying but also the reasons why each different form is used. The challenge is to get the semantic side and the pragmatic side into your studies.
So, don’t just study grammar rules on their own in a list. You need to examine the living language and notice those forms and the way they are used to perform specific functions.
Can you learn English without studying grammar?
Children do it, and you can do it too but it takes a long time for all the language to be assimilated by exposure. You can cut out a lot of that time by studying the rules. As adults we can apply what we already know and take apart the language by studying. So, studying grammar is an essential part of the learning process and goes together with a more long-term process of acquiring English through exposure.
But it’s no good just learning the rules and being able to explain it all on paper, you have to know when and why and where all the grammar is used. So it’s about applying yourself to the pragmatic aspects of the language you’re using and letting that guide your choice of language.
So, as I’ve said before – listen a lot, read a lot – like this podcast or any other material you fancy, but it’s best enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. Do some grammar work too, like self-study exercises in English Grammar in Use or another decent workbook, but make sure you are always asking yourself – why are these people using this language like this? How are the motivations affecting the choice of words and structures? When you’re doing your listening try to notice bits of language which you’ve studied. Could you say the same thing another way? What would be the difference and how is language related to that. Try experimenting with different ways to put something and get used to the slight nuance it adds. E.g. using a passive structure or an active one.
I know you’re not actually an English teacher, but do you have any tips for learners of English who want to improve their grammar?
No! Not a teacher!
Some linguistic-y tips – basically to know what all the grammar is, but also to be aware of the English that’s being used in the real world and how all that applies to the grammar you’ve studied.
I would add:
don’t be afraid of it, it’s more interesting than you might think, you might need to learn some abstract terms but don’t be put off, the more you learn the more you can learn, always look for examples.
Learning about why certain grammar forms are used really opens up the way you can see language. For example, learning that passive forms are used when you don’t want to mention who did the action allows you to see all those situations. You might want to write an impersonal formal letter, or give a general notice, or describe a process or simply talk about something that happened to someone without constantly talking about who did it. E.g. imagine a story about a guy who is a victim. People keep doing things to him but you want the guy to be the centre of the story. Like, John was kidnapped. He was bound and gagged and thrown into the back of a taxi. It took two hours for him to be rescued.
You wrote a political history of grammar in the UK (published online at http://www.davidcrystal.com)
What relationship does the average Brit have with grammar today?
Essentially, Brits have an up and down relationship with grammar, based on the fact that grammar study came in and out of fashion and grammar was learned in a two-dimensional way. People are often a bit prescriptive about grammar as they think it should be about rules and regulations, but they’re really only attempting to impose controls over something which evolves over time.
Knowledge of Grammar in the UK
In the 50s kids all learned basic grammar at school, getting examined at 16. Told to identify parts of speech in a sentence.
Then it went out of fashion in the 70s.
Several generations of kids who didn’t study any grammar at all.
Now they’ve grown up and some of them are teachers.
They don’t know any grammar.
The ones who grew up in the old style had learned grammar.
The younger ones were teaching but had no knowledge of grammar.
“The baby had been thrown out with the bathwater”
A language awareness programme was brought back, with a modicum of grammar back in the syllabus/curriculum.
David had to do lots of basic grammar training for these teachers. He wrote “Rediscover Grammar”.
Now, it’s back again.
Kids are examined for their ability to recognise parts of speech and do sentence parsing.
But the semantics and pragmatics aren’t there – it’s just mechanical analysis of sentences. Some teachers are very unhappy.
Now there are 3 types of audience.
The oldies who are in their 60s who know about the old style grammar teaching,
The middle generation, some of whom know a lot about grammar and some who don’t.
Then the modern generation for whom grammar is back. They have to come to terms with it.
One positive thing for learners of English is that you probably know more grammar than the average native English speaker. You should feel quite good about that.
Questions about language from Amber & Paul
People complain about the decline of the English language. Are standards of English declining?
That Q comes from 2017 but you can see exactly the same question being raised at any time.
The English language is in a state of terminal decline. (according to people)
This also applies to spelling and pronunciation and punctuation, plus discourse politeness. Grammar gets more mentions because there’s less of it to complain about than say ‘vocabulary’. Grammar has only 3000 or so basic points of grammar to master.
So, people feel that if you can’t manage that then there’s something serious to worry about.
People look to contemporary examples to justify their complaints.
IN the 1860s it was because of Americans.
Today the internet gets a lot of the blame, especially texting, tweeting, SMS.
Uneducated people will blame what they sense to be a reason for what they perceive to be a decline.
But when you study it you realise there’s no correlation between the signs of decline and the features they mention.
Usually people cite old prescriptive rules.
You should never end a sentence with a prep. You should never split an infinitive.
The English language has survived very well even though people have been breaking these so-called rules for 200 years.
This is the man I was talking to. – Any modern person realises it’s a stylistic distinction. “To whom” is more formal.
The informal usage also has a history as old as the English language. It’s in Shakespeare. “To be or not to be, that is the question… Or fight others that we know not of.” (ending a sentence with a prep – Hamlet)
It’s a huge puzzle to understand why the old grammarians decided to be so prescriptive.
They were blinded by their views.
For learners of English – realise that the language is always in flux. Keep up with it. Remember also that some people have slightly traditional views about language. E.g. more people in the world say “schedule” with a /k/ sound, but I continue to say “Schedule” with a /sh/ sound because it annoys people to do it the American way. Similarly, I think there’s nothing too bad about splitting an infinitive, but I tend to avoid it because it makes people a bit annoyed too.
They’re grammar nazis who don’t know what they’re talking about, but as far as they’re concerned, they’re right.
It’s not such a big problem for learners of English really. You have your own issues with accuracy. But remember that everyone struggles a bit with the language, even native speakers. We should have a progressive view of how language rules evolve, but a lot of people don’t share those views.
If you encounter people who say “It’s the death of the English language”, they’re talking out of their bum. Remind them that English is alive and well and shows no signs of dying, quite the opposite. They’re just being reactionary and hyperbolic.
Almost half the languages in the world are endangered.The reasons are many. It could be linguistic genocide – forbidding the use of the language, or opting not to use it for political reasons (e.g. because you want to side with a particular faction on your country), but when a language is endangered, when another language starts taking over the functions of that language, people no longer find themselves able to use that language for everything – certain facilities kind of disappear because people have got used to doing it in the other language.
Welsh is quite successful these days because of activism, but a few years ago English was taking over Welsh, and also some rules of Welsh grammar weren’t being used. You get a sense that the structure of the language is declining. Certain Welsh structures stopped being used. It looked like a kind of structural erosion of Welsh, because of the influence of English. Vocab is more common – many foreign languages contain English words. #Franglais
But there’s no hint of decline in relation to English which is actually going from strength to strength. Spoken by 2.3 billion people. It’s nowhere near death.
They just mean it’s changing, it’s not death.
Language change is difficult for lots of people to take and they talk about death but it’s irrelevant. The only languages that don’t change are dead ones. They go in very unexpected directions and you can’t predict them.
Petty language gripes don’t bother him. They don’t bother me either.
Partly it’s to do with identity – people are annoyed that British identity is changing or being influenced by American identity. But getting annoyed at the language usage, which is a symptom, is a bit redundant.
Some people don’t like change at all, but David sees it as a natural part of the way languages develop. Be like David.
My mate Paul often says that we’re actually using the language incorrectly because there are more non-native speakers than native speakers of English. Is he right or talking nonsense.
Error: Talking about right and wrong.
Correct: The perception that there are more non-natives than natives.
It’s a global situation now, not local (e.g. North vs South England). Global language differences are the same as local ones – equivalent – just different communities using English differently, on a global scale.
Now it’s Irish English, Indian English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English, Singaporean English and many many more including French English, Japanese English and so on – all versions of English spoken by people who have learned it to a proficient level as a 1st or 2nd language.
It’s just different communities that are right in their circumstances.
Standard English and non-standard English.
Standard English is traditionally viewed as the correct version, but NSE has it’s own justification. There are reasons why non-standard English exists and they’re perfectly good ones. Non-standard English and standard English are equal in terms of their status.
A standard promotes intelligibility. Standard English has lots of users, but there’s also a huge number of dialects (international), many different kinds of English reflecting community backgrounds. You can’t say “right and wrong” in these circumstances. It’s just a number of different communities using English in a way that is appropriate for their conditions.
When you start looking at individual cases like a foreign learner is breaking a rule of standard English, then you’ve got a transitional situation. BrE and AmE. They coexist. It’s not possible to say “wrong” or “right” when millions of people are using both versions.
In China there are very fluent speakers of English, not learners but proficient speakers, who have developed a certain usage which is basically Chinese English. Local features of grammar and vocab don’t keep communities apart, we just learn to understand each other.
“Informations” vs “information” – no problem of intelligibility.
Anyway, Chaucer wrote “informations”.
These small differences are expressions of identity and rarely get in the way of intelligibility. This is one of the reasons the UK has proud diversity in its English accents. They’re all statements of local identity, and although we see the differences, we are able to communicate with each other.
It’s a Q of whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate for that circumstance and the two criteria are
Intelligibility – do we understand you. If we understand you, it’s appropriate.
Identity – differences are an expression of local identity. Lang is adapted to reflect the locale, especially the vocab – all the reference points to important things in culture. Local terms, idioms, expressions etc.
If the English you use is wrong for that context because of the way it expresses a certain identity then you have a problem of appropriacy.
If Ali G went to the Houses of Parliament to speak with politicians and civil servants, his English would be considered inappropriate (even if intelligible) because people would think it’s not the proper way to address people and so on. Similarly if Theresa May went to a skatepark and tried to talk to some locals, she’d have a hard time as well.
English is always in tension between intelligibility and identity (against global anonymity)
Local versions need to be different enough to express their identity, but not so different that nobody understands them.
My French students feel a bit bad about their pronunciation.
Do they need to worry?
This is perhaps the #1 concern of my French students who judge each other harshly for their accents and also feel bad about it. It may be the same in your country, but I find in France people are very disdainful of a strong French accent. I don’t mind that much.
The bottom line is, once upon a time they would have felt bad because people would have said “you’re speaking English badly” and that’s not so long ago.
Now, there is no such thing as a single version of universal English accent. RP is spoken by less than 2% of the population of England. It’s a minority accent but a powerful one.
Why should people be expected to speak this minority accent when other accents are now considered acceptable in their own right.
RP is important because of tradition but miniscule compared to American, Indian and so on. It’s no longer possible to condemn an accent because it doesn’t fit in with this small version of the language. You have to analyse it on its own terms, with its local identity. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the need for intelligibility.
So the main thing is – can we understand you? If “yes” then no worries. Does it matter if you sound a bit French? What’s wrong with sounding French?
I was very impressed by Emmanuel Macron who made a speech in English. It wasn’t perfect, but he got his message across and it showed him to be a really open, confident, modern person. Compare that to Francois Hollande who couldn’t string a sentence together. You don’t need to speak English perfectly in the traditional sense, but you do have to speak it. Stop worrying about being 100% accurate – concentrate on being 100% intelligible. The main criteria is “can you express what you want to say?” not “can you express this flawlessly?”
“But my accent isn’t good”
Well, develop a different mindset. Start thinking more positively about all this!
“I don’t speak received pronunciation” (french accent)
“Well nor do I!”
Mixed accents are the norm everywhere.
English accents are much more mixed than ever before.
There are now hundreds of millions of people who understand each other but have local accents as a reflection of their national pride.
Why are the French worried about sounding French?
There’s nothing wrong with sounding a bit French. (But it’s hard to convince them of this – French people can have very negative views about some things, especially their position on the world’s stage – they beat themselves up quite a lot, which is odd. In comedy, they seem ok about being insulted about their national character. They quite enjoy the masochistic approach it seems! Either that or their just happy to have a foreign comedian talking about French things during a show, even if it is criticism. Making fun or insulting people is quite normal in French comedy – I think this is linked to the way French people often beat themselves up about stuff like English.
The main job of the teacher is to expose the students to a wide range of accents. Let them hear the English in different accents, to prepare for the real world, to develop a sense and an awareness of diversity which inevitably will help to change their mindset.
*By hearing lots of different types you get more of an overall understanding of the entire language and how it can have a core structure which is changed slightly in different versions of English.
So – I should keep playing you extracts of English spoken in a variety of accents so that you can hear the whole range.
But also, don’t get hung up on your accent too much. It’s very hard to cut out the traces of your origins, and it’s unnecessary. Just focus on being intelligible – fix your pronunciation, vocab, grammar, punctuation etc following this criteria and you’ll be on the right path.
Talking about restaurant culture in the UK, an introduction to one of the UK’s most famous chefs and a chance to learn some authentic English from a popular British TV show featuring Gordon Ramsay. Video available. Includes swearing.
This video is a combination of part 1 and part 2, with vocabulary on-screen and the TV show video clips included 👇
Video – Episode 432
Hello, and welcome back to this podcast for learners of English. Here is a new episode for you to listen to and indeed watch, because I’m videoing this one. You’ll be able to find the video on the page for this episode on my website, or by visiting the YouTube channel for Luke’s English Podcast.
A lot of what I am saying here – particularly in this introduction is written on the page for this episode. So you can read it with me, or check it for certain words you hear me using. The best way to get access to these pages is to subscribe to the mailing list.
In the last episode of this podcast you heard me talking to Amber about restaurants and hotels and some crazy TripAdvisor reviews.
At one point in the episode we talked briefly about Gordon Ramsay – one of the UK’s most famous chefs, and his TV show “Kitchen Nightmares” which was a really popular show in the UK a few years ago, and I thought it could be interesting to do a whole episode about that.
So in this one I’m going to talk a little bit about Gordon Ramsay and then we’re going to listen to some YouTube clips from one of his TV shows and I will help you understand all the language that you’ll hear. No doubt there will be some new vocabulary in the process – probably on the subject of food, cooking, restaurants and kitchens but lots of other natural language that just comes up, including plenty of swearing, because Gordon Ramsay is known for his frequent use of swear words.
Yes, there will be quite a lot of swearing in this episode, and you know my position on this. I’m choosing to show you the language as it is really used and that includes the rude words, but don’t be tempted to start throwing swear words into your everyday English. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that swear words are a short cut to sounding exactly like a native speaker. Often it just gives people a bad impression of you. We’ll go into it more later, because there are quite a lot of unwritten social rules around swearing that you need to be aware of – the main one being, that with swearing it is much much easier to sound rude and inappropriate than it is to sound cool. Think of swearing as a motorbike – you might think it’s cool but unless you really know what you’re doing you’re likely to seriously injure yourself. Similarly, swearing can be cool when it’s done in movies or even by someone like Gordon Ramsay, but if you try and do it in your normal life there’s a good chance you’ll just offend people.
So anyway, we’ll listen to some of the English in these YouTube clips and analyse the things they’re saying so that in the end you can understand it all just like I do, which should help you learn some real English in the process. You’ll also learn a thing or two about restaurant culture in the UK and about Gordon Ramsay who is one of the most well-known people in Britain.
Who is Gordon Ramsay and what’s the TV show?
Gordon James Ramsay, is a British celebrity chef, restaurateur, and television personality.
*Difference between a chef and a cook? Basically, a chef is someone who’s had professional training – at least a culinary degree, but a cook is just someone who cooks food. Both might work in a kitchen, but mainly being a chef is about having the status of culinary qualifications and experience.
Ramsay is one of the most famous chefs in the UK and probably in the world too. He has a reputation for being an excellent restaurateur and chef, and also for his extremely strict and direct style. He’s often very rude, saying exactly what he thinks about the people he’s working with in the strongest most colourful language. Imagine an army captain shouting at a platoon of soldiers during military training, but with really good food.
Ramsay was born in Scotland, but he grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is in fact not far from where I grew up in England). So, he is Scottish but doesn’t speak with a Scottish accent.
Ramsay now has restaurants all over the place – in London, in Paris and in New York. During his career he has trained at the highest level with French chefs in the UK and in Paris. He specialises in Italian, French and British recipes, and his cooking is known for being simple, unpretentious, high quality and delicious.
His restaurants have been awarded 16 Michelin stars in total. The term “Michelin Star” is a hallmark of fine dining quality. Michelin stars are very difficult to win and restaurants around the world proudly promote their Michelin Star status if they have one. His signature restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London, has held 3 Michelin stars since 2001, which is a mark of extremely high quality in restaurant dining.
As well as being a top chef, Ramsay is also a TV presenter. He first appeared on TV in the UK in the late 1990s, and by 2004 Ramsay had become one of the best known celebrity chefs in British popular culture, and, along with other chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, and Delia Smith, he has influenced viewers to become more culinarily adventurous.
As a reality TV personality, Ramsay is known for his fiery temper, strict demeanour, and use of expletives. He often makes blunt and controversial comments, including insults and wisecracks about contestants and their cooking abilities.
Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on British TV a few years ago – probably around 10-15 years ago now. These days you can find most of the episodes on YouTube.
Local restaurants vs manufacturing companies and processed food
Ramsay is actually very passionate about local restaurants in the UK.
In the UK our eating out culture is vibrant and successful but it is being undermined by a number of factors. One is the industrialisation of food culture. THis means that big businesses are involved in preparing food at an industrial level and then selling it to restaurants as part of a large corporate chain.
These chains might be restaurants which are all owned by one company, or food manufacturers who dominate the wholesale market, driving down their prices and pushing out competition such as local producers who sell fresh products.
In these industrial food manufacturing companies, the food is prepared in high quantities and then sold off to other companies and restaurants as part of a corporate supply chain for food.
There’s a big infrastructure for food purchasing in the UK which is dominated by these big food manufacturers. As a result, many smaller restaurants are forced to buy industrialised and mass-produced food because it is cheaper and more convenient than fresh food which you can buy direct from farms or markets.
If you were a struggling restaurant owner in a town in the UK, what would you do? Buy your food fresh from a local producer and then make sure you sell it in a short-term period, or buy similar products from a mass producer but at a lower price, and it’s food which you can store for longer because it has been processed to stay fresh.
In the end, people choose to eat at home, especially during an economic crisis.
So, economic factors are having a negative effect on the restaurant culture in the UK to an extent. Family owned restaurants should be where you get proper traditional and delicious local food, but these restaurants are being squeezed economically and forced to go along with the industrialised food manufacturing process.
Also, there are many chain restaurants which you find on high streets in the UK. These are not locally run, but are owned by big companies who have a single business model which they apply to all their restaurants. The fact that these places are part of a big corporate chain means that they can drive down their prices, making it very hard for local restaurants to be competitive. As a result, these smaller places suffer, struggle and often close down.
Gordon Ramsay believes that these local restaurants are the backbone of our restaurant culture in the UK, and he strongly believes that they need to be supported so they can compete with the corporate chains, and given training so they can serve the best food possible. Essentially that’s the concept behind Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but also it’s just entertaining watching him shouting at incompetent chefs. You sort of let him get away with the way he bullies people because you believe that really he’s just trying to help them to learn the discipline you need to run a really good restaurant.
But he does seem really passionate about proper restaurant culture in the UK and I like that about him. Even though he’s making this reality show and he’s making money from doing it, I think he really does care about improving restaurant culture in the UK.
On the other hand, he is very good at TV. He knows how to make entertaining TV, and he’s got a good formula for it. Basically, this means that he takes the harsh discipline and the no-nonsense brutally honest approach that he applies to his kitchen management, and uses it when giving feedback to the restaurants which he visits.
Let’s listen to a few scenes and I’m going to make sure you understand everything that’s going on and everything that’s being said.
Let’s learn English with Gordon Ramsay
The TV Show
Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on UK TV about 10-15 years ago.
The format is this – Gordon Ramsay visits a failing restaurant somewhere in the UK. So, restaurants that are failing – e.g. losing money, getting terrible reviews etc. He goes into the restaurant and spends a week there, observing the way the owners run the kitchen, how the business works and what’s going on at all levels. Usually he starts by sitting down to eat the chef’s speciality dish, and it’s nearly always disgusting, and Ramsay comments on how it tastes, how it looks, and also the decor of the restaurant and the service from the staff.
Then Ramsay gives his feedback to the owner and the chef, and it’s always a massive reality check, and it usually involves very strong words and lots of swearing. This is what happens when a top-level chef enters the world of a crappy low-level restaurant.
Then over the course of the week, Gordon helps the managers turn the restaurant around. It’s almost always a huge challenge and often the most difficult part is dealing with the psychological aspects – the stubborn chefs, the relationship issues in the kitchen, the fact that these people have personal issues which are causing the business to go horribly wrong.
It is car-crash TV. We see arguments, meltdowns, unhappy customers and so on.
In almost every episode Gordon seems to go hopping mad as he can’t believe the incompetence or shockingly low standards of service shown by the people in the restaurant. He then tries to help them change everything and turn the business around. It all makes really great telly.
And by the end of the episode, with Gordon’s help they have usually turned the restaurant into a successful business again.
There’s a UK version and a US version.
If you search for Kitchen Nightmares on YouTube you will probably find the US version first, but I think the UK version is better!
But really, it is better because the US version is horrible. It’s full of really fast editing and there’s loads of music which is added in order to tell you how you should be feeling about what’s happening. It’s distracting and patronising.
Example of the US version (just listen to all the distracting sound effects and music)
The UK version just has some rock music in the background at the start, but then during the show it’s more simple and you can just focus on what’s happening without constant sweeping sounds and tense music.
Let’s listen to some scenes from one of the episodes.
These scenes actually come from an episode called “Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmares” which was shown on TV between series 5 and 6 of Kitchen Nightmares. It’s basically the same as any other episode of the series.
Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmare – Dovecote Bistro
Gordon goes to visit a restaurant in Devon called Dovecote Bistro, which is run by a guy called Mick.
Mick is a former truck driver and burger van operator who has opened this bistro with his wife and adopted daughter, Michelle. Ramsay is firstly appalled by the psychedelic wallpaper decorating the restaurant, and then his attention turns to the food and the way it is cooked. While Ramsay is impressed with the simple menu, he is furious to find that Mick has very little cooking ability, using orange squash to make a sauce and using vacuum-sealed pre-cooked lamb shanks in a microwave bag. Not only does he show little responsibility in the kitchen, he is also secretive with his spending and is hugely in debt. Mick is adamant that the problems in the kitchen are not his fault, and his stubbornness causes a rift with his wife and daughter. Ramsay solves the crisis by taking the business matters out of Mick’s hands and kicks him out of the kitchen. His daughter, Michelle, is placed in charge of the kitchen despite having no cooking experience. She rises to the challenge, and while Mick is not convinced over replacing his microwave food, the reopening is a success.
Months later, Ramsay returns to find that the restaurant is making profit. He sent Michelle for further culinary training, and she impresses Ramsay with freshly cooked food.
The restaurant was renamed Martins’ Bistro during production.
Video 1 – Flourescent duck cooked in orange squash
Let’s see what this ex-trucker can do
Fuck me! (surprise / shock)
Your blouse matches the wallpaper
I feel like I’m tripping out!
I’ve never touched the stuff but I feel like I just swallowed an E.
The hideous wallpaper
On paper it looks delicious
A spoonful of gravy
Fuck me do I need sunglasses!
That’s worse than fucking Benylin
They’re actually vacuum packed
They can last for about a year
They’re bought in, they’re vacuum packed
They’ve got a shelf life of about a year
Well, fuck me!
That might be the worst food I’ve ever come across
He might be beyond my help
It doesn’t need refrigerating
How in the fuck could you charge 11 pounds for that?
E numbers, like Tartrazine
Do you feel like having a shit?
Thank fuck I didn’t eat it.
I’m surprised you haven’t killed off half the population of Okehampton
End of part 1 – part 2 available very soon!
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